Department political staff admit involvement in decision to delay and redact public calendar information
Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust echoed the concerns of members of the House Natural Resources Committee and Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources regarding the lack of transparency around Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s schedule, calendars and meetings. Despite promises of transparency by political staff at the Department of the Interior (DOI), specifically in the area of providing information regarding the Secretary’s calendar, only the first two weeks of her more than seven months in office are available for public view. What little is available discloses no substantive insight into the attendees and content of her meetings since taking over in March.
As the committee members’ letter explains, the prior two administrations had “routinely disclose[d] the Secretary’s schedule, meeting requests, and travel records.” Last month, PPT filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in federal court demanding DOI release Secretary Haaland’s calendar and communications regarding her meetings in response to a FOIA request the watchdog submitted in May. Evidence also exists that interference by political appointees may be responsible for the lack of transparency, with Director of Communications Melissa Schwartz admitting she removed information from public view because it didn’t “look as nice as a communications professional might want it to look.”
Today’s letter comes on the heels of a similar inquiry sent to the Department recently by a member of the Senate committee. How the Department will respond or whether it will agree to adopt the practice of regularly posting Haaland’s calendar as previous Interior Secretaries have done, remains to be seen. It is also unclear what communications the Secretary has had with her former colleague Chairman Raul Grijalva, given his previous concern over calendar practices in the last Administration.
“Throughout the history of this great Nation the American public has demanded transparency from those who serve it,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Yet the Department of the Interior has provided virtually nothing to shed light on Secretary Haaland’s meetings and travel for more than half a year. This in itself is troubling enough but, when compounded by the confession that political appointees may have interfered with disclosure, it is even more disturbing. We look forward to the day when Secretary Haaland’s Interior finally provides the transparency that not only is expected by the public they serve but that lives up to the promises the Administration has made time and again. Meager details about 12 days over the course of 7 months is transparency at its worst.”